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Steve Spurrier slid into a brown cushioned chair in the Congaree ballroom at the Hilton Greenville, glared into the slews of cameras before him and cracked an ear-to-ear grin.
“Media Days Greenville, eh?” Spurrier quipped in his prolific Southern drawl as a nod to the Southeastern Conference’s annual event that concluded Thursday in Hoover, Alabama.
Perched behind a conference room table, Spurrier regaled reporters with stories of the distant past and years not so far gone. He recalled the night Jadeveon Clowney took in a basketball game at Colonial Life Arena as a recruit and fans began chanting his name. He spoke about the day Gamecocks quarterback Dylan Thompson marched into Death Valley in 2012 and stole South Carolina’s fourth consecutive win over Clemson.
Together, Spurrier’s razor sharp wit and vivid memories offered another glimpse into the Head Ball Coach’s perplexing youth despite his 76 years of age as the former USC and Florida head coach was inducted into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame on Thursday.
“When you think of college football — the history of it, the evolution of the game and all the great people that step on the football field — you think of Coach Spurrier’s impact and how that influenced this game in a very grand way,” former South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw said in his introduction speech. “For a long time now, he’s been a large part of what makes this game so great.”
During Thursday’s festivities, a brief video comprised of photos from Spurrier’s past stops were paired with slides honoring his accomplishments on the gridiron in a career that spanned more than 55 years.
Spurrier won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as an undergrad at Florida and later coached the Gators to their first national title in 1996. His coaching career bounced from the USFL to the NFL and from the ACC to the SEC. He’s also one of just four players to be named to the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach.
“I’m glad you waited till I left Clemson,” fellow 2021 South Carolina Football Hall of Fame inductee and former Tigers standout Charlie Waters joked in his speech, “because that’d have been embarrassing (for us) to have played you.”
Spurrier’s charisma, effervescent prose and borderline goofiness has long been part of what endeared him to fan bases in Columbia and Gainesville and disenchanted him from just about every other contingent in the SEC.
During his 17-minute address to the crowd of roughly 150 people, Spurrier sent onlookers into hysterics as he recounted an encounter with a Nebraska player ahead of the 2012 Capital One Bowl.
Before the game, both teams met for a pep rally. As Nebraska departed the staging area and South Carolina entered, a Cornhusker player turned and yelled toward USC’s head coach: “Hey Spurrier, 62-24” — a nod to Spurrier’s previous loss to No. 1 Nebraska in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
After South Carolina outscored Nebraska 21-0 over the final three quarters en route to a 30-13 victory over the Cornhuskers that week, Spurrier paced along the field as his team celebrated the victory. Spotting a lone Nebraska player trotting off the playing surface, Spurrier yelled toward him: “Hey Nebraska, 30-13!”
“I did,” he conceded through a wry smile. “I did do that.”
On Thursday, Spurrier sat with a group that included his former Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations Jamie Speronis, his son Steve Jr., who’s in his second season coaching receivers at Mississippi State, and his wife of more than 50 years, Jerri.
As he began his remarks, Spurrier looked toward the woman who has been at his side for decades with a brief twinkle in his eyes and a softness in his words.
He explained how former South Carolina athletic director Mike McGee reached out to him regarding the Gamecocks’ opening in 2004. Around the same time, a North Carolina booster queried whether he’d be interested in the Tar Heels’ head coaching job. Out of work after being fired by the Washington Redskins, Spurrier told Jerri about both opportunities. One coaching job came open, the other didn’t.
“What about North Carolina?” Jerri asked puzzled when Steve told her they were headed to Columbia.
“That job didn’t open up, Jerri,” Steve assured.
Steve further entertained as he rattled off Jerri’s varying contributions to his teams over the years. Jerri sat with players’ parents every week despite access to a box. On a player’s birthday, she baked chocolate chip cookies so good Shaw said he can still taste them.
Spurrier also added that it was Jerri who drove talented but troublesome quarterback Stephen Garcia to and from his community service obligations after his third suspension from the team (a story Garcia later refuted on Twitter).
“That saying, ‘Behind every successful man is a strong woman’ — I think it’s ‘Beside every man is a strong woman,’ “ Spurrier said. “And Jerri has been beside me (for 50 years).”
These days Spurrier remains close to college football. He serves as an ambassador for the Florida athletic department, where he has grown increasingly close with Gators head coach Dan Mullen. Spurrier also quells his competitive streak as a rabid golfer.
But for a man who was born the same year World War II concluded, Thursday was another reminder of how the famed former head coach remains the youthful and tactful orator and delightful antagonist he’s always been.
When it comes to Steve Spurrier, age be damned.